The Power of Choice

One of the most important doctrinal points of the LDS Church is the power of choice, called agency or free agency in the Church.  In many ways, the entire Plan of Salvation hinges on the power of choice.

“That every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.” (D&C 101:78)

The entire topic of choice and free will did not originate with the LDS Church. For hundreds of years, philosophers and theologians have contemplated the idea of free will, both in a religious and a natural sense. It is not my intention to discuss these ideas, but if you are interested, you can start at Wikipedia on Free Will and Free Will in Theology . I wish to focus my attention to the LDS concept of agency and how we are affected by its use in our lives.

“Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.  All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.” (D&C 93:29-30)”

We are taught that there was a war in heaven before the world was.  That some chose to follow Satan and were cast out.  Those that chose to follow the plan of Our Heavenly Father and Jesus also chose to come to earth, assume a mortal body, and be subjected to the trials of this earth in the hope we would find the Gospel, live a life of obedience and sacrifice and gain our reward to return to live with them throughout eternity.  This simple lesson is taught in primary and by the missionaries to investigators.  But the power to choose and the possible ramifications of our choices are much more complex and difficult than a simple lesson would indicate.

Every choice we make has consequences associated with it.  And while it is assumed that choices are made between good and evil, sometimes choices have to be made between good and good.

“And I, the Lord God, commanded the man, saying: Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat,  But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it, nevertheless, thou mayest choose for thyself, for it is given unto thee; but, remember that I forbid it, for in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. “ (Moses 3:16-17)

When Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, they were forced to make a choice between two seemingly good things.  That of being obedient to the Father and being fruitful and multiplying, thus creating the mortal human race.  Luckily for us, they choose the later.  But in doing so, they suffered the consequences of their act of obedience by introducing a number of bad things to the world such as death, sin, sickness, suffering, trials, etc.  Many good things also happened like happiness, joy, children, blessings, and the ability to choose.

What can we choose?

There are many basis areas when we have almost complete control of our choices.  We decide which way to go.

  • Many Life Choices – Where to live, where to go to school, what kind of career to have, with whom to associate, who we marry (Gay folks notwithstanding for now), whether or not to have children, etc. Those sort of things.
  • Our Morality – What kind of person will we be, law abiding, honest, trustworthy, loyal to others. Much of which is driven by:
  • Our Religion and Faith – We can choose whether we will follow a set of religious principles or not.  We can choose which religion we want to belong to or identify with and we can choose to be active in that religion or not.  We can choose to follow the religion of our parents or we can go in a different direction entirely.  We can even choose if we want to believe in God at all or not.  I firmly believe that having faith is a choice reinforced by our experiences, both spiritual and temporal.  On the other hand, I can also see that not having faith or losing faith can be the result of the same thing. But, I think the key idea is the choice.  We can choose to believe in spite of the lack of experiences which reinforce our choice. I know this is hard, but as Paul said,

“faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

We can continue to hope those experiences will come.

  • How we react – We can choose how to react to things around us.  In spite of the hand which we are dealt (see below), we can let the things we cannot control, control us, or we can choose to take control of our situation and make it better.  As a child, this is not always possible or we may not have a sufficient maturity level to fully comprehend it. As an adult, we can gain complete control over most of the circumstances and the ill effects of our life.  In some cases, it requires incredibly hard work, sometimes alone or with the help of others, God and our faith, but many people have overcome horrendous circumstances to go on to lead highly productive, happy lives.

What we can’t choose?

While we have this ability to control our choices for most of our lives, there are a few things we cannot choose or where we lose our ability to choose.

  • The circumstances of our birth – As far as we know, we do not or cannot choose who our parents will be, the circumstances of our birth, such as where we are born, whether our parents are rich or born, whether they will be good parents, and whether we get to be brought up in the Gospel or not.  We cannot always control the health or condition of our physical bodies.  We may have chronic problems or physical limitations.  It appears we just have to deal with it one way or another.

I’ve always been somewhat bothered by the seeming randomness of it all, whether it is part of God’s plan or just luck, good or bad.  And if it is part of God’s plan, why some people never find the gospel in this life?  Isn’t that what we are supposed to do?  In other words, “Jimmy, you promised!”  But can he really deliver?  I know we are given trials in this life to help us improve, but some folks just seem to get a disproportionate share.

  • The consequences of our own decisions – If we have the complete freedom to choose, we do not have the freedom to choose what happens as a result of many of our choices, good and bad.  For example, the economy.  We could have done everything right with regard to preparing for a “rainy day” and still suffer some effects of the bad economy we now face, like losing a job.  We could have mitigated the effects substantially by following the things we are taught at Church, like having a year’s supply, staying out of debt, saving our money, etc.  If we become addicted to drugs, alcohol or other harmful things, we lose the freedom to choose to do it or not do it without a lot of painful effort. If we choose to be dishonest or commit a crime, and get caught, we cannot control our punishment. If we stop following the commandments, turn our back on the church and leave it, we cannot control our eternal consequences. That is, if all we have learned is true. If not, then maybe we will be OK after all.
  • The consequences of the decision of others – If God is truly watching over us, then the actions of others should be mitigated by what God has planned for us personally.  That is, IF that is the case.  But, if God allows the actions of others to affect our lives in spite of “the Plan,” then we are subject to other’s poor choices.  Such as we are driving down the road, minding out own business, following all traffic rules and we are hit and killed by another driver, who is not following the rules. That sort of thing happens every day.  Part of the Plan?  Perhaps so, but we had no choice in the matter.  I suppose we could have chosen to stay home and in bed that day. But, as my grandmother used to say, “Who knew?”

There would be some who might say, “well, if you are really in tune with the Holy Ghost, He would warn you that a bad thing might happen and to avoid that spot at that time.”  Yeah, right.  Yes, it could happen, it might happen, but sometimes does not.  Seemingly, good, God-fearing people die all the time under circumstances they did not or could not control.  Part of the Plan?  Maybe.  There are a million other examples I could cite.

As I stated in the beginning, I think choice is among the most important gifts God has given us. We can use it wisely or use it foolishly.  Our happiness on this earth and in the eternities seems to depend on the choices we make.

Do you think choice is that important?

Comments

comments

74 comments for “The Power of Choice

  1. June 18, 2009 at 7:28 am

    Why do we choose certain things?

    I think we’ve had a few run-ins on this kind of topic before, so I was looking forward to this article, and you didn’t disappoint. Yet you do not provide a compelling reason why someone would believe in spite of lack of experiences.

    I would suggest that the impetus for faith then becomes something more like a circumstance of birth (or at least, some circumstance of life that we haven’t yet pinpointed and can’t yet consciously control.)

    Particularly, I think we have irreconciliably different views of “belief.” To say “I believe” represents to me a propositional attitude…an attitude that is unchosen. From there, I have reason and inclination to act one way or another. For example, going to church, reading scriptures, etc., etc., are certain actions I could take and would be more or less inclined to do depending on my propositional attitude. These kinds of actions are chosen, but the question is…why would I do them? I’d have to have some kind of pre-existing propositional attitude to justify these. Maybe it is, “I believe in god.” Maybe it is, “I believe in community and family solidarity.” Maybe it is, “I believe these things will improve me.”

    But without these things (or others), we don’t have foundation to act.

    So, the question is…can we just *choose* a propositional attitude? This seems problematic. However hard we try, many of our propositional attitudes seem to choose us rather than us choosing them. Why do some people believe in god? Because for some reason, they are internally inclined to. Why do some people not? Because for some other reason, they are not internally inclined to. A person just saying, “HAH, I CHOOSE TO BELIEVE IN GOD” runs into a wall of what his internal inclination is in the same way a person who believes 1 + 1 is really 2 will run into a wall if he wants to “choose” to believe 1 + 1 instead = 3.

  2. June 18, 2009 at 7:36 am

    I’ve got a post written, but not typed up, on the changing lexicon of the Church, including the newest, “moral agency” in place of free agency. Some interesting things implied. Much like “less active” for “inactive.”

  3. June 18, 2009 at 8:22 am

    re 2:

    Stephen, I think I’d have to see official uses of free agency.

    I don’t think it was ever officially used, but maybe I’m biased since my father was telling me the error of the term for a *long* time.

    What I had heard was…the church’s position has always been that we have *free will* and *agency*, but never *free agency*. The addition of “moral” to agency to make the formal term “moral agency” is just to stop people from trying to put the free on agency.

    It too has seemed clear the church’s meaning of this. We are free to choose (because we have free will), but we do have consequences to our actions that cannot be chosen (as Jeff mentioned, and as the scriptures mention repeatedly)…so to say our agency is free is to suggest we live in a vacuum with no determinable consequences. I don’t think most of us would buy that.

  4. Jeff Spector
    June 18, 2009 at 8:27 am

    Andrew S,

    “Particularly, I think we have irreconcilably different views of “belief.” To say “I believe” represents to me a propositional attitude…an attitude that is unchosen. From there, I have reason and inclination to act one way or another.”

    Thanks for bringing that up. Cause I had hoped we could have a discussion about that idea. I did say that I firmly believe that faith is a choice, but I am open to discussing your ideas about that. I wanted to further understand where you are coming from to see if an adjustment in my thinking is necessary.

    I know that “belief” seems to come very easy for some, less so with others. In fact, some belief comes so easy, it borders on being just plain gullible. it is just that I have run into so many that seem to be able to turn belief, not just about religion but other things as well, on and off. Saying, well, I just don’t believe that anymore. That seems like more of a choice to me than anything else.

  5. Jeff Spector
    June 18, 2009 at 8:31 am

    Ethesis,

    I was trying to figure out when “Free Agency” was kind of phased out and just “Agency” took it’s place. Free Agency was coined by Joseph Smith as far as I can tell and I am sure it was a contraction of Free will and Agency. But while it was very popular in the Church, some time around the mid 90’s, it sort of went away. But I won’t steal anymore thunder from your upcoming post.

  6. June 18, 2009 at 8:45 am

    re 4:

    Jeff,

    My experiences, I guess, have been different. I have increasingly seen people who note that they just “couldn’t believe x”…and I have increasingly seen others who note “I just can’t help from believing x.” Discussions throughout the bloggernacle (but not just here, throughout all of life) seem to point all to this phenomenon — people have positions that they are inclined to have…this inclination is not chosen…it’s the basis of their choice. In fact, many of them would like to choose other inclinations if they only knew how (many who doubt would like to not doubt…they’d like to believe and be secure like many of the believers they talk with who seem not to take any issue with the same topics that bring them to their knees).

    Even when I have seen people who seem to be able to “turn belief on and off,” I have been able to find that, peripherally, they still too have an inclination. Their “turning on and off” is more indicative of facade. For example, it comes back again with the actions one might or might not be inclined to do based on propositional attitude or belief. People who don’t believe can be inclined to say, “I believe,” and go to church, follow commandments, study scriptures…but peripherally, you can subtly tell — if only by the microexpressions these people give when they think no one else is looking — that they aren’t secure in their actions. They aren’t in it as everyone else is, but they are pulling off what they think is a convincing act. Similarly, people who do believe can be inclined to say they don’t and go about a life without church, a life of debauchery (not saying that a nonbelieving life is debauchery…but for any believer, it most CERTAINLY is possible to choose a life contrary to what their belief system would incline them to)…but you see that these people have to justify it with other inclinations (I wanted fun now) and that eventually, their true long-term belief comes running up to them (this is where you see those people who are guilty, or who are repentant and ashamed).

    This is true for other things. Not to get into a gay discussion, but for whatever reason we have, we have inclinations that don’t seem to be chosen and don’t seem to have any reliably way to be changed — orientation. So, I recognize that of course, everyone chooses to *act* on inclinations and orientation…but when you see someone acting against inclination (without another deepseated inclination to turn it to), you see struggle and conflict. The blogs of mixed orientation marriages is particularly interesting from this aspect — because most writers are particularly candid about how their choice (which indeed, they did have the power to choose — I’m not denying that) still doesn’t fully overwrite inclination (which is unchosen). So, they are in a constant fight against themselves, and they use other inclinations (such as faith, belief that the Lord wants them to be married, belief that having a family will be good for them/all) to wedge against other inclinations.

    Still, it most certainly *does* seem to be a battle of inclinations…and at this point, we don’t have reliable ways to impart inclinations. Sometimes, raising someone in the church, even if they aren’t inclined to believe, can “teach” them to be inclined to guilt that they don’t believe…and the church can then use this to have the individual try to choose to follow one inclination over the other. But this isn’t reliable — what also can happen is that raising someone in the church, if they aren’t inclined to believe, can “teach” them resentment, self-disgust or disgust with the church. Then all inclinations align and you get anti-mormons instead of just regular members or regular ex-members.

  7. June 18, 2009 at 10:17 am

    #5:
    Free Agency was coined by Joseph Smith as far as I can tell and I am sure it was a contraction of Free will and Agency.

    Actually, Jeff, “free agency” was in use among Universalists and other American christians prior to 1830, often as a counterpoint to the pre-determination of Calvinism. Joseph Smith Sr., as well as several of his family members, were Universalists during their Vermont years, and their church was on the preaching circuit of Hosea Ballou, the founder of Unitarian Universalism.

    The Universalist idea of “free agency” was also promoted by Eleazar Wheelock, the founder of Dartmouth College and its associated Moore’s Charity School, where Hyrum Smith atttended. Moore’s was primarily founded to train missionaries for service among the Native American tribes, so the student experience was quite strongly religious. Universalism was the controlling point of view, until the board of directors became majority Calvinist, at which time they changed the religious direction (and, notably, tried to stop the long-standing tradition of their students becoming Freemasons).

  8. Jeff Spector
    June 18, 2009 at 10:20 am

    #8, Excellent, Nick Thank you!

  9. Jeff Spector
    June 18, 2009 at 11:10 am

    #6, Andrew S

    “people have positions that they are inclined to have…this inclination is not chosen.”

    I completely agree with people having inclinations or proclivities. But, our theology teaches that many of these inclinations are part of our “nature.” We are to overcome the negative inclinations that we have and refine the positive ones. Even though it is hard for some of us to believe, we each have the spiritual gifts that help us believe. For example:

    “To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world. To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.”(D&C 46:13 – 14)

    sometimes, I think that for some, they choose not to believe because then they have to do something about it. It is easier to be on the fence than to take a side, so to speak. I see that in some of my kids.

  10. Aaron
    June 18, 2009 at 11:21 am

    This is a great post and it gets to the heart of one of my biggest questions –

    Can we choose what we want?

    I think this is especially important as it pertains to religion/spirituality because I have observed that for most of us, what we want in our heart of hearts ultimately decides (at least in part) what we believe. I observed this consistently in the mission field, in my years in the church since, and in my own life. Those who get answers to their prayers and gain testimonies are usually the same people who want the church to be true (for a lot of reasons, some good and some not so good).

    It is commonly said that people who pray and get no witness have that experience because deep down they didn’t want the church to be true. People often presume (incorrectly in my opinion) that the reason is they have some sin or manner of ungodliness that they don’t want to give up. Hence, no answer from God. This is equated to having a sincere heart, which is one of predications given in Moroni’s promise in the Book of Mormon.

    It is currently a struggle for me because given all that I now know much of the unsavory details about the church and it’s history, I’m not sure I want to believe anymore at it means I have to find a way to reconcile what has been done and said with my personal values. I don’t know if I will be able to do that. I don’t know if i want to do that. Interestingly, as I have embarked on this journey for truth, I feel like I feel the spirit less and less in my life. I continue to pray for God to help me to want the right things for the right reasons, but so far those answers haven’t come. In many ways, I can’t choose what I want. Hence, I have difficulty choosing to believe.

    Getting back to my original question,

  11. Aaron Reeves
    June 18, 2009 at 11:27 am

    It is possible that the limitations of our choices are really quite important? How does the circumstances of our birth for instance reverberate through our lives especially when this is coupled with choices of others, like our parents. There is a famous poem by Philip Larkin that has the line (paraphrased) ‘you pass your faults onto your kids/and add a few more just for good measure’. I think i see choice as important to being like God, but i am not sure that it is a reliable measure of who we are, except for our integrity. I mean that I am unsure whether good can judge on us on what we do or believe compared to a standard that most people are unaware of or not inclined to believe or understand. But he can judge us on how well we choose to live by what we believe, factoring the limitations of our choices.

  12. June 18, 2009 at 11:29 am

    re 10:

    Jeff, this is a classic answer, but I think it can be abused.

    for example, hypothetically, why don’t we all say that Islam is correct, and that our natural inclination to think of it as foreign, strange, not for us, not where we need to be, is something we need to overcome. Who is to say that our natural inclinations are negative or positive (or to say that Mormon writings about which ones are positive or negative) is more correct than Muslim ones? Or put in Islam’s place any other religion or denomination, and one can find scripture to try to suggest the same things.

    This thought process ignores a key part of our decisionmaking. We discern alternatives using our inclinations. What we view as “negative” and “positive,” to be “overcome” or not depend on our inclinations. Someone doesn’t choose not to *believe* because they have to act. They may choose not to *act* because they have to *act*, but this is different than choice. You don’t necessarily choose to find any other religion less fit for you thank Mormonism…it’s just that’s how it happens, and because things have happened like that, you are inclined further to act on this. You are free to choose, though, but for you, you have little reason to believe that your inclination to do “mormon” things is something to be overcome. What I see in kids and teens is not their choosing what to believe…but them having some belief (or having a different belief), and then choosing whether to act on it or not. When they don’t, it becomes apparent they are betraying themselves.

  13. June 18, 2009 at 11:38 am

    re 11:

    Aaron, I guess I don’t believe we choose what we want…but at the same time, I think things get hairier…

    Because you can *want* to believe the church is true and *want* to have a confirming experience…but still be out of luck. This gets into a rather hairy nest of things. You can choose to act, but your acts are colored by your beliefs. I don’t think you choose to believe, but this is up for grabs (as Jeff comments)…From beliefs, some would suggest that your beliefs are colored by your wants/desires, so that’s another step in the nest. Your wants/desires may or may not be chosen, but this is up for grabs (as you comment)…and what if there’s another step in the nest (your want to want or desire to desire, so to speak?) This can get ridiculous, “I don’t believe, and I don’t want to believe, but I want to want to believe.” But at the same time, it sounds like something someone might conceivably say — it sounds like something *I* have heard, at least.

  14. June 18, 2009 at 11:44 am

    One of the most powerful gifts we have is the ability to choose how we will think. With the exception of those who are profoundly mentally ill, ie. psychotic, and the severely mentally disabled, most can choose the thoughts that they rehearse mentally throughout the day. Our thoughts motivate our words and actions.

    Eastern religions teach the importance of calming our minds and stilling our thoughts through mediation. Scriptures challenge us to “be still and know that [He] is God.” In Oct., 2006, General Conference, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, “Our motives and thoughts ultimately influence our actions. Jesus repeatedly emphasized the power of good thoughts and proper motives: “Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not” (D&C 6:36).”

    I would suggest that perhaps the most powerful part of agency is the ability to choose our thoughts.

  15. Aaron
    June 18, 2009 at 11:45 am

    re #14:

    I’m right there with you. Trying to wrap my mind around this is giving me a headache.

    I desire to desire that the church is true, but at least in some ways I do not. I can’t help that and it scares me.

  16. June 18, 2009 at 11:54 am

    Sidestepping comments about the profoundly mentally ill, psychotic, or mentally disabled,

    re 15:

    When you choose to rehearse thoughts mentally throughout the day, don’t you feel a clear difference between these thoughts and the thoughts to which you are naturally inclined? Aren’t you actually gambling that mental rehearsing for long enough will turn those thoughts into natural thoughts through habit?

    But what happens if every time you rehearse a thought, a naturally inclined thought tells you, “Wow, that’s just a mentally rehearsed thought!”

    If you rehearsed, “1+1=3” long enough, would it ever come to a point where you thought that and you truly felt that proposition to be true?

  17. June 18, 2009 at 11:56 am

    I would like to add that I think free agency is much more broad than what some might think upon first glance. For example, it is not just about choices (what to wear, what to do when faced with options, what to study, what job to pursue, etc.), it is also about things like mood, outlook on life, whether or not to be happy, etc. It gets more complex when one deals with chemical imbalances, etc. But many people act like they are not in control when I believe we have more choice than some might think. For example, many act as if they are victims of circumstance: I am hungry therefore I am grouchy, it is not a choice. Or, I got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. Or, I am just in a bad mood today. These types of comments limit the person’s ability to choose and I think the more and more someone allows themselves to be the victim of circumstance the more they truly do reduce their free agency. Even things like personality, which, in many ways are determined by genetics or environment, can also be an opportunity for change and an opportunity to utilize free agency to change. Choosing to use free agency is another HUGE choice. I think if we choose to be victims of circumstance, our free agency muscle atrophies, but if we constantly exercise free agency to change even the hard things, like deeply ingrained habits or our outlook on life or our personality, we will experience more and more freedom.

    Michael Corleone: “I can change. I’ve learned I have the power to change.” A great line but I think it was shown that he didn’t have the power to change. Most don’t, frankly. The first step, I believe, is recognizing that we do have the ability to make even difficult choices, like choosing to look at things positively even when all our senses focus on darkness. Being aware that we have that ability is huge. Also recognizing how we are affected by circumstance helps us to identify that a circumstance exists, and that we can choose to do something about that circumstance so that it doesn’t affect us in ways we do not want. I think this is a key component of psychotherapy. If the patient can recognize what is causing the mental issue, whatever it may be, it is easier to choose a path that may lessen or eliminate its affects. A super simple example that illustrates this point is someone who is in a bad mood due to being tired. I think we have all had days or moments where we were cross for what seemed like no reason. But if one simply recognizes, I haven’t been getting enough sleep, and therefore, I am in a bad mood, it is so much easier to change the behavior because the cause has been recognized. One will still feel tired but knowing why they are being cross will help them avoid continuing to act that way.

  18. Jeff Spector
    June 18, 2009 at 11:57 am

    #12, Aaron Reeves,

    “But he can judge us on how well we choose to live by what we believe, factoring the limitations of our choices.”

    I like this idea. Just like I think that the become a Christian or go to hell idea shows a God that is basically unfair to those who never get a chance, being a good person and living up to the ideals you have is a much better indicator of the true nature of someone. And I think that God rewards that in the end. After all, it is God himself that limits our choices as to where we are born and under what circumstances?

  19. June 18, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    I was writing my post when Carol Posted hers so I didn’t see it until now. I agree completely. Through controlling our thoughts, we can take it even steps further, to control how we view the world. We can control whether we are optimistic or pessimistic. We can control whether we are happy or not. It is extremely difficult and takes a ton of time and self control, but I believe it can be done. I wish I could say I knew from experience. The book “What Happy People Know” is all about this most important challenge.

  20. June 18, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    re 20:

    So, Dexter, I trust you are engaged in a quest to see the church in completely optimistic terms and be the best believer you can be, right?

    Granting what you say is true (which, from conditioning, let’s say it is), what’s the say you should do this for this church or another? For one emotion or another. Optimism makes you feel better and pessimism makes you feel worse, you might say, so this gives you reason to try. all religions claim to have the truth, ultimate “awesome,” etc., If we cannot discern ultimate “awesome”, does that mean we just need to “take a ton [more] time and self control”?

  21. June 18, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    Your post seems to imply that what is a positive, optimistic thought for one is a positive, optimistic thought for all. This is not the case. For Jill, being an active member of the LDS church could be her ultimate goal. Therefore, when she has a bad day, she could reflect on her temple worthiness and the service she performs in her calling to try and maintain positive thoughts. But for Jane, being an atheist who’s ultimate goal is to raise her kids to be successful and well-educated could be her main goal (at this stage in her life), so when she has a bad day, she could focus on recent successes she has had in her endeavors.

    My comments had nothing to do with what religion one belongs to. The positive that we all should focus on, in order to be happier, could be, and is in my opinion, different for everyone. I think there are common threads, like relationships with loved ones, that are necessary for most people’s happiness, but we are all different.

    So I guess I don’t understand your question. I never said one should view the church as optimistically as possible. For some, church membership is an important part of their lives, for others, it means nothing.

  22. jjackson
    June 18, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    Choice is quite simply the greatest power that exists in anyone.

  23. June 18, 2009 at 12:26 pm

    re 22:

    I suspected you might’ve meant that line of thought. I just have some questions.

    do you think Jane can “choose” to believe in Mormonism and believe that it is and should be her main goal? Do you believe that Jill can “choose” not to believe in Mormonism and not believe that it is and should be her main goal? Can these two “choose” to feel happy and optimistic about such choices?

    I understand *you* never said one should view the church as optimistically as possible, but others *might*. Does your gungho optimism of choice and free will extend to accommodate this view?

  24. June 18, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    Can Jane choose to believe in mormonism and believe it is and should be her main goal?

    Of course.

    Can Jill choose not to believe and not believe it is and should be her main goal?

    Of course.

    Can they choose to feel happy and optimistic about such choices?

    Of course. If they initially chose to believe or not to believe, it stands to reason they can feel good about their previous choice. But if things change, they can choose to do the opposite. I am simply saying one should focus on the positive things in their life. For Jill, that could be focusing on her church activity. For Jane, that could be focusing on how she realized that she doesn’t need religion in her life. BUT, if circumstance cause Jill to doubt, or Jane to believe, they can choose to change their minds. What is a positive thought for Jill and Jane can change, and Jill and Jane can continue to focus on whatever it is that they define as “good” or “positive” in order to maintain happiness. Obviously, this sounds super simple, but being a simple and true principle, does not mean it should be thrown out (whoa, I just paraphrased scripture!). But this simple theory is extremely difficult to actually do successfully.

    Does my gungho optimism of choice and free will extend to accommodate this view?

    Again, I don’t think anyone should view the church as optimistically as possible, I think they should focus on the things the positive aspects of their lives, whatever they define as positive.

    Marv Levy, the coach of the Buffalo Bills team that lost four straight Super Bowls, upon retirement, said, “The losses were just too painful.” I think this is the common view of man. The pain of the losses is greater in depth than the joy of the victories. My counsel, which is stolen from “What Happy People Know” is simply to make an effort to focus more on the wins, so that the joy of the wins is greater than the pain of the losses. We all have wins and losses. If we want to be happy, what other choice do we have than to focus on the wins?

  25. Hawkgrrrl
    June 18, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    I tend to agree with Andrew S.’s observation that ultimately there’s something to be said for people getting what they want, but people are often not aware of what they want. Our thoughts do color our perceptions, and we can change our thoughts intentionally with practice.

    This entire argument is a nature vs. nurture one, even if you consider that people have a tendency to believe (or want to believe) or to disbelieve (or to be skeptical). Whence that tendency? Were some people born that way, were they like that in the pre-existence, is it just who they are, or did life circumstances foster those tendencies (e.g. birth order, childhood experiences, bad breakups, parental influence, etc.)?

  26. Jeff Spector
    June 18, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    #18, Dexter,

    “I would like to add that I think free agency is much more broad than what some might think upon first glance.”

    Thanks for your comment there. I did want to make it that broad because I think choice is that powerful. So I agree with you 1000%. Betcha didn’t think that would ever happen!

  27. June 18, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    I had faith that it would happen, Jeff. Thanks for writing the post.

  28. June 18, 2009 at 1:05 pm

    re 25:

    Dexter, you’re hard to pin down.

    BUT, if circumstance cause Jill to doubt, or Jane to believe, they can choose to change their minds. What is a positive thought for Jill and Jane can change, and Jill and Jane can continue to focus on whatever it is that they define as “good” or “positive” in order to maintain happiness. Obviously, this sounds super simple, but being a simple and true principle, does not mean it should be thrown out (whoa, I just paraphrased scripture!). But this simple theory is extremely difficult to actually do successfully.

    If circumstances cause Jill to doubt or Jane to believe, they haven’t chosen to change their minds. Rather, circumstances have caused their minds to change. you state it very simply: some circumstance must happen to cause Jill to doubt or Jane to believe. Really, what they are choosing is action-type things. Whether to continue going to church, studying the scriptures, etc., or not. But they aren’t choosing to believe. The circumstances put one in that position and didn’t put the other in that position, and the circumstances would have to change first before the two would have motivation to change their action-type things.

    re 26:

    Hawkgrrrl

    This entire argument is a nature vs. nurture one, even if you consider that people have a tendency to believe (or want to believe) or to disbelieve (or to be skeptical). Whence that tendency? Were some people born that way, were they like that in the pre-existence, is it just who they are, or did life circumstances foster those tendencies (e.g. birth order, childhood experiences, bad breakups, parental influence, etc.)?

    At this point, I think this is often an irrelevant distinction. Because when we look at “nature” vs. “nurture,” it doesn’t get us a dichotomy between “chosen” and “unchosen.” It’s not necessarily that nature is unchosen and nurture is chosen. After all, even with life circumstances, one doesn’t choose these. so, regardless of if the ultimate answer is being born that way, being that way in the pre-mortal existence, that just being “who they are,” or what life circumstances have led them to be, we have two important conclusions 1) whichever one (or more) of these the answer lies in…it is not something the individual chose most often and 2) the individual can’t reliably choose to change it. Even if it is a life circumstance, for example, we don’t have circumstances that individuals can engage in that will predictably and reliably “change” them the other way.

  29. Jeff Spector
    June 18, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    #13, Andews S.

    “Jeff, this is a classic answer, but I think it can be abused.

    But it could just as well be a true answer….. Because for some of us, it just is.

    “for example, hypothetically, why don’t we all say that Islam is correct, and that our natural inclination to think of it as foreign, strange, not for us, not where we need to be, is something we need to overcome.”

    Most of us don’t know enough about it to make a decision either way. So, I do not think it is a “natural” inclination but a circumstantial one based on the observations we have had. In other words, Muslim terrorists jade our thinking about Islam because, for most, they color our limited knowledge in a negative light. My Mother-in-Law has a bad view of Mormons because she met one once who was not honest. that is not natural, but experiential. Besides, it is not even right.

    Another good example is watching young children playing. They are color blind and blind to things like disabilities. They just play. It is only in later years, that they may, from the environment, learn prejudice. That is learning, not inclination. They may have an inclination or a sense of justice that tells them the learning is not right, but nevertheless, they are exposed to learning which may change their perspective.

  30. June 18, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    Defining belief as a choice or not boils down to how one defines it. What the average person feels cannot always be chosen (though it can be trained.) What the average person does is always, always a choice.

    Setting aside religious faith for a moment, even belief can be chosen. I once chose to trust a person when evidence stacked convincingly against them. Everything I did trusted, despite my feelings of doubt.

    I have also been mistrusted when I was completely innocent. That person chose to mistrust me, despite no reality behind that mistrust. No matter what I did to prove my innocence, they chose not to believe in it.

    So I can say with complete confidence that for the general person, belief is a choice.

    Even religious belief.

  31. June 18, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    Andrew,

    I respectfully disagree. Jill can choose to believe. But we make new choices every day. If she learns about everything BY taught and did, she has a new choice to make. Do I still believe, or not? She could then choose to still believe or she could then choose not to believe. Circumstances do not cause one to stop believing. But they certainly can cause someone to reevaluate her position. I firmly stand by my opinion that we all choose what we believe. Of course our choice can be based on new information and we can change our choice of beliefs, but to say that we do not choose what we believe is to say that we are simply victims of new experiences or facts that come our way, and that therefore, we cannot control our beliefs. I absolutely disagree with that stance.

    So, I suppose I misspoke when I said events can “cause someone to doubt.” Experiences or facts do not cause doubt. If I were mugged I could choose to believe that god is evil for not preventing it. Or I could choose to believe that god had nothing to do with it. If Jill learns that JS married a young girl she could choose to believe the source or not to believe the source. If Jill decides she believes the source is true she then will choose whether she still believes he was a prophet or not. Of course, if some fact or doctrine just doesn’t make sense to Jill is she really choosing to doubt or does it cause her to doubt? I suppose on some level one could argue it is not a choice, and on another level one could argue it is a choice. One could argue she chooses to value her logical system over her faith that it is true. If it doesn’t “make sense to her” isn’t that based on her choice of what logical system to utilize, and therefore, she is choosing to believe, in some way, that it doesn’t make sense?

    Sigh. Well, clearly this issue is more confusing (to me anyway) the further I go with it.

    Feel free to jump in here anyone and clarify this. It may simply be semantics with what you define as choice and it may be unknowable. How does the human brain interpret information that leads to doubt or that leads to stronger belief? I have no idea.

  32. June 18, 2009 at 1:30 pm

    re 30:

    “It could be a true answer…because for some of us, it just is.” I do not doubt that. but I note that many groups would say the same thing in defense of their group.

    I agree with you on your description of circumstantial inclinations…but I also think that someone could be “unhappy” with circumstances and long for something they do not know what…and then, upon reading about the Q’uran or some other foreign text to their own experience, realize that that was what they were looking for. So, that is why I talk of “natural” inclination, because it — even if it may actually still be circumstantial — can oppose circumstance. Similarly, experience can lead to different conclusions. We might say bad experience -> bad view of the church and disbelief in it, and this has a lot of evidence of it, but then there’s also ideas that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” that hinges on the idea that sometimes, even bad publicity can captivate and interest people (and that can make them realize the ideas behind, though poorly presented or lived, are attractive to them.)

    But I’m curious…with all of your experiences, do you think that you somehow have experientially and circumstantially supposed upon the truth? Or do you feel your belief and your position now is more due to circumstances and could be “not even right?”

  33. June 18, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    re 32:

    Dexter, I think the experiences of many would respectfully (or perhaps even not so respectfully) disagree with you on “Circumstances do not cause one to stop believing.”

    I think many members and exmembers can remember the circumstance or even that shook their belief and caused them to lose (or, on the contrary, the circumstance or event that convinced them and created belief)…in either case, when this circumstance happens, they reevaluate their actions, most certainly. but they reevaluate them in light of their new belief (or lack). Many WANT to believe, but they don’t have a belief. They can still choose a great many things (what they will *do*) in light of their lack of belief, but it is all in the hopes of an experience or some information that will change the situation and inspire belief.

    If I were mugged I could choose to believe that god is evil for not preventing it. Or I could choose to believe that god had nothing to do with it.

    I disagree. If you were mugged, if you were inclined to believe god had something to do with it, then you would be inclined to believe that. If you were inclined to believe god had nothing to do with it, you would not have that inclination. In either case, you can choose what you will do regardless of that, but the inclination (either way) will remain. That inclination is not chosen.

    If Jill learns that JS married a young girl she could choose to believe the source or not to believe the source. If Jill decides she believes the source is true she then will choose whether she still believes he was a prophet or not.

    Similarly, Jill is either inclined or not inclined to believe the source. She doesn’t choose to be convinced or not convinced…if she will be convinced, she will be convinced. If not, she won’t.

    If a doctrine doesn’t make sense to someone, do they choose for it to not make sense? No, they do not. They can choose a number of actions after here…whether to ignore or set aside the doctrine that doesn’t make sense and pursue on, but it will *not* change the fact that the doctrine doesn’t make sense to them, and that they are worried. If they ignore something that is inclined to be at the forefront of their thought, sure they can choose to ignore, but they cannot then choose to get rid of the guilt and doubt of mismatching their inclination with their actions.

    One doesn’t *choose* a logical system to utilize, so it wouldn’t be right to say Jill chooses to believe. If Jill accepts one logical system, it is because she is inclined to do so. If not, it is because she is not inclined to do so.

    I’m really struggling, because I don’t understand how this is so disagreeable. But then again, this says more about my inclination…I simply cannot choose to suddenly understand 🙂

  34. June 18, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    What does it mean “to be inclined” to believe? You are saying people do not have any say in what they are inclined to believer or inclined not to believe? I disagree. People have the ability to choose. To simply dismiss this power with a phrase about what they are inclined to do. Inclination is based on previous choices, and therefore, within someone’s control. Free agency leads to inclinations. You seem to say inclinations are beyond our control. I disagree.

  35. June 18, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    re 35:

    ahh, how can I explain…this is so frustrating XD.

    We *start* not as a blank slate, but with personality, ways of thinking, ways of evaluating. These things may not be perfect and may be up to change and can be influenced by life experiences, etc., (life experiences which may or may not be chosen, btw), but these are part of (but not the only) things that found an ‘inclination’. I don’t know how to explain it any clearer and simpler without making it seem like I’m “simply dismissing this power.”

    People have the ability to choose. But why do they choose? They choose things because of inclinations. They are biased in favor of certain things or other things because some things feel good to some, some things feel bad to some…some things seem right to some…some things seem wrong to others. We can recognize things that intuitive sound right to us or recognize when we feel something is positive to us…how? by our inclinations.

    I don’t know how to explain it man. I just think that it appears again and again in the experienced reality of many. You can’t just will yourself to believe something you do not believe. It takes a rewriting of inclinations. These inclinations, even if they can conceivably be chosen, are not known well enough to be tested and shown as choice. Rather, they affect people unpredictably and unreliably.

  36. June 18, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    Taking this debate beyond choosing one’s beliefs, I will readily admit there are things that are innate. We do have some inclinations that are not a choice. For example, I am not a heterosexual by choice. I simply am one. I remember at a very young age (I was 6 at the oldest) seeing a beautiful woman on tv, and I had a very natural desire to be near her. I had no idea what sex was, but the scene (no, it was not a dirty show at all) showed her in a bedroom and she was in bed. I don’t know why I felt this, and I don’t know what I would have done if I were there, but I can tell you with 100% certainty that I wanted to be in that bed with her. It is as simple as that. (As a side note, this is why I have always sympathized with homosexuals. If they simply and naturally felt what I felt without even knowing why they felt that way or where it came from, towards someone of the same gender, how did they do anything wrong? How was that a choice they can correct? Sheesh, it amazes me the way people can be so mistreated for just feeling natural feelings that they didn’t ask for and didn’t choose.)

    Anyway, the point is, there are inclinations that are not chosen. Sexual preference is one of them. (Perhaps a small minority choose in this regard, I don’t know, I’m just trying to avoid a blanket statement that sexual preference is never a choice for anyone, maybe it is for some.)

    But as far as what one believes, I think there is choice involved. Andrew, you seem to be saying choice has nothing to do with inclinations to believe or to doubt. I find that surprising.

    I would put my heterosexual inclination to be something that cannot be chosen.
    But what I believe is extremely different. I believe there is a lot of choice involved there.

    Are you saying inclinations to believe or not to believe are as strong as what I would consider inclinations that involve no choice (like my example of sexual preference)?

    Or would you say there is some component of “choice” in inclinations to believe that is not found in sexual preference?

  37. June 18, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    re 37: I believe that inclinations to believe/not believe are as strong as what you would consider inclinations like sexual orientation, but with the caveat that there still is a meaningful difference: inclinations to believe have more “circumstances” or “events” that can lead to the changing of different inclinations (e.g., there’s more of a possibility that someone will experience an event that could jumpstart faith or experience an event that will send faith crashing apart than that one will have an experience that causes them to be attracted a gender they are not attracted to).

    However, where I would say both groups have commonality again is here: let’s suppose there is some event that can change sexual orientation. Whatever it is (if it exists), we can’t reliably or predictably choose to induce it (much to the chagrin of those who would want to change their sexual orientation) and different people will respond differently to different things. Similarly, let’s suppose there is some event that can change belief inclination (which we can more experientially trust in the existence of this one)…just the same, 1) we can’t reliably or predictably choose to induce it and 2) different people will respond differently to different things. These commonalities essentially make belief (and orientation) unchosen, and not consciously changeable.

  38. June 18, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    to continue with the analogy (without trying to get too off-topic)…to say “I choose to believe” seems to me like saying, “I choose to like men/women/whatever.” To say, “Well, through your actions, you can choose to believe anything with enough time,” seems to me like saying, “If you just avoid (one gender) and think/hang out with/deal with (other gender), you can choose to be attracted to whomever.” When I say, “We can choose to act, but not believe,” then I think it is comparative to saying, “We can choose to abstain from our orientation, feelings of lust or love, spend time with people we are not attracted to, etc., but we do not choose to end our attractions and change who our attractions are for.”

  39. June 18, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    I just realized I used the phrase “sexual preference” while describing it as not involving choice. Sexual orientation is a better phrase to use.

    While I may agree that to a certain extent one cannot completely choose his beliefs, I cannot agree with you that choice is completely removed from it either.

  40. June 18, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    I think some people choose to believe because to not believe is too painful. Imagine an 80 year old who discovers issues that give him reason to doubt the church. He has painstakingly lived and spread the gospel his entire life. He has sent many children and grand children on missions and would be extremely pained to admit a) he was duped all these years, and b) be duped his loved ones his entire life by spreading something that wasn’t true. I think he might simply choose to belief to avoid that kind of pain.

    Similarly, I think someone who has had an awful life as a believer, may choose not to believe in god because to continue to believe would mean that god hates him, in his opinion. He is convinced that if god exists, god hates him, which is a miserable thing to believe. So he chooses to not believe in god, bc then he doesn’t have to deal with that miserable feeling. Granted, it is hard to simply choose what you believe, but in time, I think many do it.

  41. June 18, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    I’d argue that even using sexual “preference” doesn’t imply choice (although I too would rather use orientation). Because do we choose what we prefer? It get back to the question…do we choose our desires?

    The only real problem is that preferences can change and be changed through rather simple, reliable and predictable methods; this is what is incongruent (despite ex-gay movements) with what we know about sexuality so far (but then again, we could just be premature in the research).

    I guess I would have to ask: why is it that you choose the way you do? Don’t you feel as if you have something anchoring to you to the choices you make that couldn’t be satisfied simply by saying, “Well, this is how I’ve chosen in the past?” Or do you truly believe that if you set your mind and heart to it, you could believe in anything? (If so, why not do that?)

  42. June 18, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    Why is it that the LDS church calls the “power of choice” “agency” as it says in the first line of this post?

  43. June 18, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    #17:
    If you rehearsed, “1+1=3″ long enough, would it ever come to a point where you thought that and you truly felt that proposition to be true?

    Absolutely! First, however, you’d find a way to resolve the cognitive dissonance you naturally experienced. People truly believe/feel what would seem to be some of the most blatant lies, based on this kind of “self-conditioning.”

    #23:
    Choice is quite simply the greatest power that exists in anyone.

    Agreed! So why do so many people seem to completely freak out, whenever someone exercises that power for themselves??

    #26:
    I tend to agree with Andrew S.’s observation that ultimately there’s something to be said for people getting what they want, but people are often not aware of what they want.

    Amen to that! In the Western Mystery traditions, the primary question is “what do I want?” The question is far more difficult to answer, than we might initially assume. How much of what we think we want, comes from authority figures telling us what we should want? How many folktales have we heard, with the moral of “be careful what you wish for?”

    #29:
    If circumstances cause Jill to doubt or Jane to believe, they haven’t chosen to change their minds.

    I disagree. Evidence or circumstances may lead one to believe or doubt, but ultimately either response is chosen. As humans, we screen out (or excuse away) all sorts of evidence, in order to preserve our choice to believe or doubt a given proposition.

  44. June 18, 2009 at 3:10 pm

    #43:
    Why is it that the LDS church calls the “power of choice” “agency” as it says in the first line of this post?

    Because “agency” and “free agency” were common in the religious vernacular of early 19th century America. See comment #8, above.

  45. June 18, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    Finally I get some support.

  46. June 18, 2009 at 3:16 pm

    re 44:

    Nick

    re 17, yet you’d have to “find a way to resolve that cognitive dissonance,” which is an “if” kind of deal…not a “when.” Not to mention…you’d need some inclination…some reason to convinced you to do this self-conditioning. Perhaps religious guilt gotten through being raised in a church does it for some, but even this isn’t perfect.

    re 29, I don’t think either response is chosen. I think the “screening out” and “excusing away” process is a part of our inclined subset of tools. People who believe and are unbothered by contrasting stories and evidences may be inclined to be unconvinced by contrasting stories or may be inclined to ‘excuse away’…their self-preservation isn’t chosen.

    Similarly, when doubters come across “positive” evidences, they don’t choose to go “lalala this doesn’t convince me.” it simply *doesn’t* convince them. Their brain is already inclined to go on a certain path.

  47. June 18, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    re 46:

    lol, don’t think of this as a competition

    ~Andrew S.
    *not playing to win*

  48. June 18, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    Ha ha. No, I don’t either. I was just starting to wonder if I was the only one in the world who thought that way.

  49. June 18, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    well, fwiw, I guess Jeff agrees too.

  50. June 18, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    #47:
    Andrew, I think you’re engaging in a “chicken or the egg” debate. What you seem to suggest is an initial “inclination” toward belief or doubt, I see as a preliminary choice to believe or doubt.

    Alma’s whole seed/faith analogy in The Book of Mormon (even if it was written by Joseph Smith, rather than translated) is a rather perceptive look at this process. To Alma, it’s enough to “desire to believe,” and then start interpreting the evidence in way that supports belief. Alma implies, of course, that if you do not “desire to believe,” the same evidence won’t influence you.

    You may argue that the “desire” cited by Alma is the natural “inclination” you referred to, but that tends to ignore the fact that a person may “desire to believe” at one point in life, and yet emphatically not “desire to believe” at other times.

  51. June 18, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    re 51:

    We are both engaging in a chicken or egg problem.

    But I take my position precisely in response to things like seed/word analogy.

    So it’s enough to desire to believe? But can you choose what you desire? Oops. No you don’t. Your desires are related to inclinations you did not choose. And as I wrote in my article about alma 32 (and in other comments here or elsewhere), regardless of your desire, you can come away with nothing. People can desire to believe all they want, but if they don’t, they don’t.

    Note: I understand that a person may desire to believe at one point in life and yet emphatically not desire to believe at other times…but I also recognize that these are not chosen. Your desire to believe is based on events and circumstances that happen to you, and your lack of desire to believe is also based on events and circumstance. Unfortunately, we don’t have a way to reliably “turn on” or “turn off” by targeting circumstances…it’s random and unchosen.

  52. June 18, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    #47:
    Similarly, when doubters come across “positive” evidences, they don’t choose to go “lalala this doesn’t convince me.” it simply *doesn’t* convince them. Their brain is already inclined to go on a certain path.

    If so, then religious believers, accepting that a doubter’s “brain is already inclined” to doubt, will conclude that the doubter has a brain defect. Perhaps the doubter will be told that there’s no sin in having this unexplained malady, so long as the doubter doesn’t act on it! 😉

  53. June 18, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    re 53:

    It’s a step up from the believer believing that the doubter is 100% free to choose to doubt, and that it is therefore a sin to have this unexplained and inexplicable malady (why would one choose to doubt, egads!) Or that the doubter recruits believing children to the side of doubt and should therefore be avoided at all costs.

  54. Ray
    June 18, 2009 at 6:06 pm

    I don’t think all that much about whether I really do have a choice in things. I take it as a given, since I find the alternative abhorrent. I believe I have the power to act for myself in the moment when I need to act, because that belief is foundational to me – and I really don’t care if that belief is a choice or a gift or simply an evolutionary survival of the species impulse. As long as I can believe I am considering options and making a choice, that’s good enough for me – and I think that is the heart of the concept of repentance and eternal progression. Remove the belief in agency and free will, and you might as well shoot me now; I’m a pre-programmed puppet, (from a theisitic perspective) extreme Calvinism is correct and my life suddenly loses all meaning.

    So, I “choose” to reject that and “choose” to believe I have the power to choose. In my mind, I have no other choice – so perhaps it’s not a choice. Perhaps it just is. I really don’t care about the distinction.

  55. June 18, 2009 at 6:56 pm

    #45:

    Comment #8 (correctly) only refers to the term “free agency”. “Agency” is what our scriptures say. Our scriptures did not use the common term “free agency” (which even then is not completely synonymous with the idea of freedom to choose). I think “Agnecy” follows the dictionary maeaning more closely than we usually assume.

    Also, Free agency began to fall out of favor in conference talks in the mid 80s. Packer gave a talk in the early 90s which brought the non-scriptural term “free agency” to most peoples’ knowledge, so it has since continued to dwindle in usage. A speaker (Texiera?) used the term “free agency” last conference, but the transcript and the Ensign have “agency”. I’ve still got his talk on my DVR.

  56. June 18, 2009 at 7:22 pm

    re 56: The problem with the term “free” agency is that it is too strong a rejection of determinism. Of course we have agency and free will, but our agency is not “free”. rather, it is tied to moral consequences, in the same way that every action has a consequence.

  57. June 18, 2009 at 7:39 pm

    #56 (” ‘Agency’ is what our scriptures say.”

    Here is a fun example from Rev. David Sanford (1737-1810), a Congregationalist minister in Medway, Massachusetts. Portraying Adam as an archetype of Christ, Sanford emphasized that we are not accountable for Adam’s sin . . .

    The Paradise law is not the same as the law that is to regulate the judgment at the great day of account.

    This law is the law of the old and new testaments; comprising the sanctions of all moral and evangelical precepts, which have ever been revealed to men. It will treat mankind, individually, as free, voluntary agents. By this rule, every one shall be judged according to his works, whether they be good, or whether they be evil. . . . But the law of Paradise treats mankind, not as agents, according to their [p. 11 ends] works, but according to the works of their father, their publick head, in which they had no hand or agency. “By the offence of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation.”* The law of Paradise, therefore, is not the same as the law, that is to regulate the judgment of the great day.

    —David Sanford, TWO DISSERTATIONS. First. The Nature and Constitution of the Law, Which Was Given to Adam in Paradise; Designed to Shew What Was the Effect of His Disobedience. Second. The Scene of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane; Designed to Shew the Nature of the Cup, Which He Prayed Might Pass From Him. . . . Boston: Published by Farrand, Mallory and Co., Suffolk Buildings—and Lyman, Mallory, and Co., Portland, 1810, pp. 11-12, with footnote, ” * Rom. v. 18.”

    According to Rev. Sanford, Christ suffered bodily anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane as Satan tried to destroy Him physically before He could pay for our sins on the cross: a sort of apology for the prayer that the cup should pass from Him.

  58. June 18, 2009 at 8:30 pm

    #55:
    I don’t think all that much about whether I really do have a choice in things. I take it as a given, since I find the alternative abhorrent.

    “Choice is an illusion, created between those with power, and those without.”

    (Bonus points if you know the source of the quotation–grin!)

  59. Ray
    June 18, 2009 at 8:41 pm

    #59 – I’m pretty sure it comes from “The Matrix”, but I have no idea what character said it.

  60. Jeff Spector
    June 19, 2009 at 7:05 am

    #33, Andrew S.

    Sorry for the long deeply in responding but I was actually trying to do my job for a bit yesterday. 🙂

    “But I’m curious…with all of your experiences, do you think that you somehow have experientially and circumstantially supposed upon the truth? Or do you feel your belief and your position now is more due to circumstances and could be “not even right?””

    This is a bit hard to describe I think. I can give you something from my experience, not the somewhat contrived strawmen examples we all like to use from time to time. 🙂

    Having grown up Jewish, I had a strong learned aversion to Jesus Christ. Even though my family was not very active in the faith, that was one thing I did learn. In high school, many of my friends, even some Jewish ones, were getting “saved.” And along with that new found faith, was their zeal to proselyte to thees. So, imagine the cognitive dissonance that occurred when one of my friends from one of the most observant Jewish families was telling me about how Jesus was the Savior and I need to confess and take him into my heart. You know the line.

    I am standing there in wide-eyed disbelief going, “Do you have any idea what you are saying? What in the world would your parents say, if they heard you? Are you crazy?” And as she is explained the trinity to me, I am thinking, this makes no sense.

    The general Christian explanation of the trinity never made sense to me and still does not.

    Fast forward to a later time before I was married and I took missionary discussions. I like the missionaries and I liked the story of Joseph Smith and the idea of living Prophets (I always wondered what happened to those guys after the old testament?). But, I didn’t seriously consider joining the church until after I was married to my member wife.

    Would I have joined if I had not married her? Probably not. Would I have become more observant as a Jew. Probably not. But I also recognize that I might never have joined the Church had my parents been more observant at home and taught me more about Judaism.

    OK, so why tell that story? I made several choice there in spite of some “natural inclinations” that I though I had. Especially an aversion to Jesus. On the other hand, I had some spiritual experiences that I cannot deny, which ultimately convinced me that I was in the right place in spite of the flack I would receive for joining a Christian Church.

    To answer your other question, I have supposed that I might not be right. In fact, I wrote a post about it some time ago. (So, What if it isn’t true?)In fact, I question that a lot. Not in a doubting way but to strengthen my own testimony. but I always come back to the same place. I had experiences that I cannot deny and so I am in the right place. And the Lord comfirms that for me.

  61. June 19, 2009 at 10:11 am

    re 61:

    Jeff, thanks for the personal story.

    I’m just still trying to think about a few things from it, so please stop me if I get too rude.

    It’s curious how you say you had a “strong learned aversion” to Jesus Christ…this suggests that it doesn’t necessarily make it a natural aversion…yet when you heard about the trinity, it seemed you had a natural aversion: that of it intrinsically not making sense. It wasn’t that you had necessarily learned that the trinity doesn’t make sense, and it isn’t necessarily that it might never have made sense without some kind of epiphany, but most certainly, the first reaction…the reaction from yourself…was that it didn’t make sense.

    It seems that your interactions with the church were just a bit different. It seemed that, despite your learning, you *liked* the missionaries and you *liked* the story of Joseph Smith and the idea of living Prophets. You naturally *wondered* what happened to Prophets after the OT. I would suggest that these are things that you were naturally inclined to do…or did you *choose* to like the missionaries, the story of Joseph Smith? Did you choose to wonder, or is that what made most sense to do?

    I don’t want to presume too much based on limited information, but it seems to me that if I were to classify things, the “natural” inclinations were 1) against the trinity and 2) for the ideas of the church. Aversion to Jesus Christ seems, from your story, more of a learned, cultural, social thing that tried to overwrite and provide a competing inclination against any natural ones you might have had, and not something that came from the core. And above all of that, you did have a spiritual experience which ultimately convinced you. So even if aversion to Christ was a natural inclination, that spiritual experience would be the experience that changed the inclination from ‘away’ to ‘to’. It, along with the discussions, along with your wife most certainly, along with all of these other experiences, worked in tandem to change the way you think and consider so that some things would be more “convincing” than others.

    In the end, I am not trying to suggest you’re in a right place or a wrong place. I don’t know enough to make statements like that. All it seems to me is that if you’re in a stage in life that mostly makes sense to you, that is enjoyable to you, that allows you to progress and grow, I don’t see anything wrong with that. But I would suggest that these metrics (what makes sense, what is enjoyable, what we view as “progress”) are not “chosen,” while our actions are.

  62. June 19, 2009 at 10:25 am

    #62:
    It wasn’t that you had necessarily learned that the trinity doesn’t make sense, and it isn’t necessarily that it might never have made sense without some kind of epiphany, but most certainly, the first reaction…the reaction from yourself…was that it didn’t make sense.

    Thinks “make sense” or “don’t make sense,” in light of our existing knowledge and experience. Look at it this way. I guarantee that when you were born, the English language “didn’t make sense.” It wasn’t until you became familiar with it, and learned it on at least a rudimentary level, that English “made sense” to you. The only thing “inherent” here is that you can’t “make sense” of something you don’t have a framework of knowledge and experience for.

  63. Hawkgrrrl
    June 19, 2009 at 10:28 am

    It seems to me that LDS theology is more primed for some religious conversions than others. Theologically, one of the biggest components to the restoration was JS’s redemption of and connection to the house of Israel. LDS view themselves as part of the house of Israel both literally and figuratively, and those with a direct connection have extra cache to us. This occurred because JS looked past RC to find authority, envisioning a pre-Christ Christology beginning with Adam that is unique to the LDS.

    There are some natural connections between religions, and this is one of them. Likewise, the UU seem to provide a place where liberal-leaning LDS find comfort if the uber-conservative LDS culture sends them packing. It would be fun to create a tree showing all the most likely movements and the least likely.

    Probably the toughest movement is from LDS to born-again evangelical, but I could be wrong. We’ve certainly met some here (so it happens), but it’s not a very easy transition, usually creating a much more violent break with the past (anti-Mormonism).

  64. June 19, 2009 at 10:50 am

    re 63:

    Nick,

    I do not doubt that we have some things that don’t make sense or which make sense based on experience, but the fact that we can just “fall” into things that make sense without having to work and work and work on them extensively…is meaningful.

    I would assert that our framework of knowledge and experience has other things in it then…we are not blank slates…so we also must account for the framework of personal preference, inclination, desires, etc.,

    I mean, if things were as you said, then every individual would be a perfect product of his environment. There’d be no way to rebel against the environment, because no one would be able to intuit that there could ever be anything different or better…but in fact…we can do such things. We can in fact, even after learning English, say, “Now, this doesn’t make sense…the language should do something else instead.” We can in fact, even only learning English, find concepts we don’t know how to say. Our thinking isn’t restricted to the words we know.

    re 64:

    Hawkgrrrl, yeah, I’d want to see (if we could somehow get the numbers…doubt we could, though) where people go. I don’t really think that LDS -> born again evangelical is too tough (not only have I seen a few individuals…there are whole *sites* for it)…I do think that when we look at the transition, it doesn’t really suffice to say that LDS->evangelical is “tougher” because of the “violent break with the past” (anti-Mormonism)…because even this transition can seem very organic and smooth to some (e.g., “waaah I was BETRAYED HATE HATE HATE.”) All of the stones were aligned and it wasn’t a tough transition at all.

  65. Jeff Spector
    June 19, 2009 at 11:18 am

    #62 – Andrew S

    “It’s curious how you say you had a “strong learned aversion” to Jesus Christ…this suggests that it doesn’t necessarily make it a natural aversion…yet when you heard about the trinity, it seemed you had a natural aversion: that of it intrinsically not making sense.”

    Well, again, being brought up Jewish, the first thing you learn is that Jesus was not the Messiah. So, no, its not a natural aversion per se, but I am not sure that Christianity itself would be a natural inclination in any sense. I think that recognizing a ‘higher power” might be that way, but any particular religious persuasion would not.

    The trinity, on the other hand, requires some level of faith and belief to even consider it. Let alone some suspension in the laws of nature. My issue was that the bible does not support the traditional Christian view of the trinity. That is not natural aversion either.

    I might add that I had a curiousity toward religion in general that, for whatever reason, did not really pertain to my own religion at the time. i looked in Scientology and used to talk to the JWs prior to ever learning anything about the LDS Church.

    Andrew, I am just not convinced regarding your “natural inclinations theory when it comes to this. In spite of all my curiousity, I choose to tell the Scientologists and the JWs to leave me alone at some point, even though I liked them as people too. I just lost interest.

    Just like I lost interest in my first go around with the missionaries, even though I might have like them as well. After all, my contacts were with the sister Missionaries and I was a 25 year old single guy.

    “All it seems to me is that if you’re in a stage in life that mostly makes sense to you, that is enjoyable to you, that allows you to progress and grow, I don’t see anything wrong with that.”

    Certainly, after 28 years, a person can get comfortable with their surroundings. But, if I thought that the Church no longer ‘worked” for me and my family, I would leave it and go find something else. I wouldn’t hesitate, even though many of my best friends and acquaintances are Church members.

    On the other hand, I am still convinced it was the right CHOICE for me.

  66. Jeff Spector
    June 19, 2009 at 11:21 am

    Nick,

    “The only thing “inherent” here is that you can’t “make sense” of something you don’t have a framework of knowledge and experience for.”

    Yes, I really agree with this. and sometimes, even with some of the knowledge and background, it might not make sense.

  67. Hawkgrrrl
    June 19, 2009 at 11:48 am

    Jeff – I have really enjoyed reading more about your conversion.

  68. Jeff Spector
    June 19, 2009 at 12:01 pm

    I should make it a post, but it is rather long with all the details

  69. June 19, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    you know what you must do? serial posts.

  70. DrewE
    June 19, 2009 at 6:54 pm

    Great post Jeff…and now for the fast criticism (just kidding)

  71. James
    June 20, 2009 at 6:52 am

    35 What does it mean “to be inclined” to believe? You are saying people do not have any say in what they are inclined to believer or inclined not to believe? I disagree.

    Dexter I was totally on the same page as you but now that I have kids and seen them grow up I see that genes has a much more powerful presence than I ever could believe.

  72. June 20, 2009 at 11:18 pm

    The ability to choose the paths we take is, of course, crucial to maturing, whether it be in a spiritual sense or in a biological/emotional sense. The question of whether conscious beings such as ourselves have the ability to freely choose (in the fullest sense) in a universe governed by an omniscient, prescient God is a little more tricky and one, I venture to say, that won’t be solved to anonymous satisfaction anytime soon. While, in our limited, human, mortal, finite perspective, we can freely decide what we will do in any given situation, we are certainly not free to reject the consequences of our choices. Last year, President Eyring mentioned something that, the more I thought about it, the more I found it provocative. In the June 2008 Ensign, he said: “We have moral agency as a gift of God. Rather than the right to choose to be free of influence, it is the inalienable right to submit ourselves to whichever of those powers we choose.” The powers being God or Satan. Can it be that there are two vast rivers of influence streaming across the universe with no dry land available? It is impossible to reject both, but rather we must choose which flow we will enter at critical points of decision? I’ve never thought of free agency in those terms, but it makes sense to me.

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